Mexico is one of the top 5 countries in the world in terms of ecological diversity and is home to the Paricutin Volcano that is also one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. This is the result of Mexico’s topography which varies significantly and its geographic situation which places it between distinct eco-zones. There are many ways to enjoy these natural wonders found in Mexico including white water rafting, scuba diving, sailing, trekking, mountain climbing, bird watching, biking and a variety of other eco-activities. Naturally, there is some disagreement about which of mexico’s natural wonders are the best, so researchers have conducted surveys to determine which of these is most popular. Copper canyon was determined to be the most popular followed by Sumidero Canyon, the butterfly reserves and the meso american barrier reef..
The Punta Venado EcoPark is about a 10 minute drive south of Playa del Carmen. Its a little over 2000 acres with 2.5 miles of beach on the Caribbean coastline. The outdoor adventure activities in this park include horseback riding, atv trails, mountain biking and water sports such as kiteboarding and snorkeling. Mountain bike trails are rated according to difficulty and cut through dense jungle where there’s a good chance of wildlife encounters with spider monkeys, deer or a variety of other small mammals as you ride. Whenever you get hot or tired and need a break from biking, you can always stop at one of the cenotes found near several of the trails and take a refreshing dip in these natural pools of underground water. Another way to relax and cool off at the end of the day is to take the trail towards the park’s beach club where you’ll find a restaurant, bar, and the caribbean ocean.
Mexico has about 6,000 miles of coastline and over 450 beaches with a variety of physical characteristics. These range from desert to tropical environments but while it may be easy to classify beaches according to these objective characteristics, the choice of which beach resort is best for a vacation is much more subjective. A quick internet search will turn up several sites that rate beaches in Mexico by a variety of different criteria but there is only one objective system that rates beaches by strict criteria applied the world over and that site can be found at http://www.blueflag.org. Their system for evaluating beaches started in France around 1985 and is now run by the European Foundation for Environmental Education. In general, the Blue Flag criteria used to determine which beaches deserve to be awarded are water quality, safety, services, environmental management and information. As of now, there are 5 beaches that have earned the blue flag award in Mexico. Coincidently, all five of these beaches are also on the list of the best beaches in Mexico as published by websites such as Travelers Choice and magazines such as U.S News and Travel that use tourist opinions or travel writers opinions to rate beaches. So, if finding the best beach is a top priority on your next vacation, it comes down to a decision about the intangibles such as idyllic versus the tangibles such as environmental information signs. In the photo essay below there is a photo of Playa Delfines, a blue flag awarded beach, as well as several photos of beaches in Tulum which Travelers Choice rates as the best in Mexico. All other beach photos below are highly rated by one or more survey about best beaches in Mexico.
Akumal, or place of the turtle in Mayan, is a small americanized beach community located between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. It is not only a nesting ground for sea turtles but home to Centro Ecological de Akumal which is dedicated to sea turtle protection, environmental marine research, education and sustainable tourism development. The bay of Akumal is sheltered from waves so conditions for turtles and snorkelers alike are arguably the best that can be found within the Maya riviera. ln addition to the loggerhead, green and hawksbill turtles that call Akumal home; snorkelers can expect to see a variety of colorful tropical fish and coral thanks to the clear and calm waters of this bay. The Yalku lagoon, found at the north end of the Akumal, is another ideal location for snorkeling. This happens to be a unique environment where fresh waters from the yucatan’s underground system merges with the caribbean sea to form a lagoon sheltered from waves. For additional details and images, please go to the photo essay below.
Cozumel is the largest of Mexico’s islands measuring 53 km by 14km and is found in the Caribbean Sea about 1 hour away from Playa del Carmen on the passenger ferries which make frequent trips on a daily basis. Although, there are a variety of things to do once you get to Cozumel the main attraction has always been snorkeling and scuba diving to experience the great meso american reef system. One travel guide book has a list of 86 attractions around Cozumel but 43 of them involve different scuba diving or snorkeling locations. Other things to do while on the island are related to either cultural activities, parks or beach clubs.
Three types of beaches can be found around this island and they will be either rocky, smooth white sand or hybrids. According to people in the know, rocky beaches are a indication of good snorkeling opportunities off shore and they are plentiful. The smooth white sand beaches are not as common as the rocky type but they can be found at the northern or southern tips of the island’s western shores such as Playa San Francisco near Punta Sur. Finally, there is the hybrid variety where sand has been brought in to build a beach on top of the limestone croppings that are the norm around Cozumel.. One such man made beach is found at the Chankannab National Park to the south of town.
At the end of the day, most people head for San Miguel to enjoy happy hour, dinner or other cultural activites. This is the only city on the island and it has a population of over 75,000 people according to the last count. One of the main attractions here is the pedestrian only Plaza Centro where you can find restaurants, shops, street artist, cafe’s and nightlife. In the photo gallery below you will find images and more information about Plaza Centro, a few of the beaches as well as some other highlights.
Puerto Morales is a small seaside fishing village about halfway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. It was not built for tourist and commercial development has been kept to a minimum, so it is still more like a residential community where prices for most everything are lower and the pace much slower than the typical “touristy” resorts. The Great Meso American reef lies just 500 meters off the shores of Puerto Morales and offers a variety of marine life as well as one of the most beautiful reefs in the world. So it should not come as a surprise to say that the main attractions here are fishing, scuba diving and snorkeling. The largest annual fishing tournament is held in May and offers $80,000 pesos to the winner while scuba diving features coral reef formations, wrecks and schools of colorful fish. Other nearby attractions include the Dr. Alfredo Barrera botanical garden and Crococun Zoo, in addition, the photo gallery below provides a look at some of the sites around the center of town.
The most popular beach in this authentic mexican resort is Mamita’s at the north end of Playa and a block from La Quinta Avenue, the pedestrian only entertainment center of town. Thanks to the amenities offered by Mamita’s s Beach Club and Kool’s adult beach club next door, you don’t need to bring anything with you other than a swim suit to enjoy a day at the beach as illustrated by the following series of images.
In Playa del Carmen on the Maya Riviera, life is a beach and so it is called Playa by most everyone familiar with this area. Up until a few years ago, the main attraction to Playa was the ferry to Isla Cozumel but there has been a dramatic transformation in the past 10 years from portal to what is now one of Mexico’s most popular resorts. Some of this success can be attributed to nearby attractions such as Cancun or Ecaret theme park but Playa’s newly developed amenities and attractions make this resort an appealing destination on its own..
As far as attractions and activities are concerned, the sun, sea and beaches are the most important to consider. There’s plenty of sunshine to go around, the ocean temps are comfortable all year long, and the beaches stretch from one end of town to another. Playa Caribe is one of the main public beaches at the south end of town next to the maritime terminal where ferries to and from Isla Cozumel are located. Amenities at this beach include volleyball nets, several tiki bars, showers and massage tables. On the other side of this terminal you will find Senor Frogs beach which offers similar amenities as detailed by photo on the left, as well as there restaurant and bar.
Other conveniently located attractions include a variety of retail stores, restaurants and bars. The retailer’s directly behind Playa Caribe are for the most part independently owned and operated. Wheras, the retailers directly behind Senor Frog’s are corporate owned speciality stores that are part of the upscale La Fiesta Plaza. As you might expect, there is a considerable difference in the merchandise available at these shops and in the way they operate their business. Suffice to say, that if you are looking for a bargain on products made in Mexico, shop at the independently owned stores as seen in the photo to the right. If you want expensive name brand imports, shop at the Plaza La Fiesta. In addition to the different types of merchandise for sale, it is also interesting to compare the old world approach to retailing practiced by the independent shops versus the contemporary style of retailing at the Plaza La Fiesta.
Likewise, the choice of where to eat includes traditional mexican food served at stands or restaurants just behind Playa Caribe or restaurants like Subway, Haagen Das and Starbucks in the food court at the La Fiesta Plaza. When it’s time for happy hour, however, the choices are easy because all the bars seem to serve the same brands of mexican beer and after a few hours in the sun, they all taste good. Cheers!
This edition of Cancun Highlights features golf courses, restaurants, beaches and marina’s. It’s hard to say which is the best or most popular golf course because opinions usually vary according to individual preferences and skill levels. In any case, there are several top notch 18 hole, par 72 courses within the hotel zone. The longest, at 6,800 yards, is the Iberostar Golf Club, followed by the Cancun Country Club at 6,750 yards.. However, all golfers know that yardage changes from time to time with tee placement, so anyone of the above courses could be longer than the other on a given day. For what it’s worth to all the duffers out there, the Cancun Country Club, designed by Nick Price, is recognized as the only Tournament Players course outside of the United States at this time.
Another popular public beach located in the heart of the Cancun hotel zone is Playa Tortuga. It is not an expansive stretch of beach like Playa Del Fines mentioned in a previous post because it is filled with Tiki bars, open air restaurants, beach oriented retail shops and cafes. The pier in the background of this photo has a bungee jumping tower and is also a launching point for ferries to Isla Mujeres.
Aqua World is also one of Cancun’s top attractions. It is both a marina and business with a fleet of 17 boats offering both tourist and nautical services. For example, there is a jungle tour that takes you through the Nichupte Lagoon mangroves to a secluded snorkeling paradise while another tour offers a lobster dinner cruise on the lagoon at sunset.
Last but not least is the La Habichuela Sunset restaurant. With a reputation for delicious meals, a unique sculpture garden of native flora and mayan theme shows; it has earned it’s rank as one of Cancun’s best restaurants. As the name implies, it is also one of the best places within the hotel zone to watch the sunset over the Nichupte Lagoon.
For those that are not familiar with the history of Cancun, it was just a deserted island 40 years ago that was separated from the mainland by a system of canals and consisted of nothing more than marshes, mangroves, jungles and beaches. In 1969, however, the Cancun development was officially approved and construction began sometime in 1970. The master plan originally called for a hotel zone without permanent residential areas, a residential zone for permanent residents and an international airport. Needless to say, this plan required some very complicated engineering but in the end; the development project was successful.
There are now 72 hotels located in a 17 mile stretch of beach inside the hotel zone with the Caribbean sea on one side and the Nichupte lagoon on the other. Most of these are rated 5 stars, the best rating achievable in Latin America. The first hotel to be built was the Playa Blanca which is now an exclusive adult only hotel now known as the Temptation Spa Resort. Another adult only hotel, Le Blanc Spa Resort , is now the most popular according to Trip Advisor, with Live Agua ranking second in this cateqory. Just across the street is trip advisor’s highest rated shopping mall in Cancun called La Isla. It is unique in that it features a marina at the rear of the complex where boats can be rented, as well as, a canal running through the shopping center that gives it the look and feel of Venice. Also featured in this post is a photo of Playa Del Fines which is the largest and best maintained of the public beaches on this 17 mile stretch of road which is dominated by hotels that limit public access to their beach area as much as possible.